Review: To The Moon
On Friday night, I played To The Moon. Perhaps more accurately, I should say To The Moon played me. Well written, astonishingly well scored, and equal parts funny, charming, and heartbreaking, this game hits hard, and hits deep. This is because despite its far fetched premise, the characters are shockingly believable, human, and likeable. I can’t help but imagine these characters must really exist as real people somewhere.
If you care about narrative in games, you have to play this.
The playable characters are the two doctors, Eva Rosaline and Neil Watts. They work for Sigmund Life Generation, a company that grants dying wishes to their clients. This is a matter of visiting the dying person and using a machine to edit their memory of their life, so that they can believe in their last moments that they have lived out whatever particular fantasy they request. The patient in this episode (the developer has recently announced an upcoming second episode) is a widower named John who wants to go to the moon, but he doesn’t know why. This creates a problem for Eva and Neil, who need to know why so they can do the edit. Determined to find clues, they proceed to work their way backward, searching through virtual copies of the man’s memories, unraveling the mysteries surrounding the man’s late wife, their marriage, courtship, and eventually his childhood by leaping through various mementos. Throughout this journey, Eva and Neil have some really funny and believable dialog, including frequent pop culture references (mostly by Neil) and almost as frequent insults (mostly by Eva). Some, I’ve read, seem to find these a bit over the top, but I thought they did an excellent job of keeping a game that tends to really trigger tears from coming across as manipulative. It feels very well balanced.
Graphically, it resembles a Super NES RPG, perhaps no game moreso than Chrono Trigger. However, it’s not really an RPG in the most traditional sense; it’s more of a work of interactive fiction with some point and click adventure elements. But what’s key here is the story, which is told with painstaking care and taste, never insulting the player or talking down to them. The pacing is very solid, as the whole story arc takes place over less than four hours of gameplay. The music is phenomenally good, suiting things exactly right and lending additional impact to the emotions triggered by the game. The lion’s share of the music is composed by the developer, Kan Gao. A couple of the tracks feature Laura Shigihara, best known for singing the Zombies on Your Lawn ending song from Plants vs Zombies.
In fact, taken for what it is, the game is nearly perfect, and to my memory, pretty damned unique.
Nearly perfect, that is, except for some small issues. The point and click controls are kind of strange, in that pathfinding can be unpredictable, and some items can be tough to interact with, requiring moving your characters away and then back again. The pointer sometimes doesn’t line up exactly with objects, meaning if they’re close together, it’s not hard to hit the wrong one, though this rarely happens. There are spelling errors and awkward grammatical phrases in the game. Finally, there is a sequence near the end of the game that should simply not have been there, because it controls terribly, is very frustrating, and adds nothing to the story. The worst of these problems is the last, and it’s over pretty quickly, and does not make the game any less of a recommend for purchase. It’s currently on sale on Steam for $8, or $10 with a superb 33-track downloadable soundtrack. Unfortunately, the Steam overlay and screenshot systems do not currently work with this game.
My first thought was that this game doesn’t have much replay value, but that thought was incorrect. My second playthrough has me looking at events in a whole different perspective, now that I know where it’s all going. For a game this linear, that is quite an accomplishment.
Freebird offers a free one hour demo of this game on their website. If you’re not sold, I suggest you go grab it and try it out.
Five out of five. As an experience, it is not to be missed.
Tags: freebird games, independent, steam, to the moon